Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Thursday, November 3, 2011

First Day of School by Enes Berg Stringam

Standing: Bern, Eldor, Glen
Sitting: Mom

On Mom's first day of school, she spoke almost no English, only Swedish . . .

My first day of school was anticipated with the fear and anxiety which had been passed down to me from my brothers who went before me.
I recall horror stories with exaggeration about strappings, sitting on a stool at the front of the room for being late, and beatings from older boys.
Beware of the 'older boys'.
As the time came for me to make my debut, my legs became so numb that I could hardly walk.
I was so afraid.
Winnie Charleton (two years older) kindly took me by the hand and led me into the one-room schoolhouse.
Mrs. Hunter smiled as she pointed to the desk at the front of the room where I would work.
Four other girls sat behind me in the same row.
"Good Morning, boys and girls!" said Mrs. Hunter.
"Good Morning!" responded the class.
All except me.
Mrs. Hunter looked at me with a lop-sided smile.
"Can't you say, Good Morning?" she asked.
"Yah," said I, then quickly, the line I had rehearsed with Mama, "Min nom Enes. I am half past six."
Little titters rippled around the room.
"Would you say that again, please?" asked Mrs. Hunter.
Luckily, I understood.
"Min nom Enes, I am half past six."
The giggles turned into a roar as the thirty or so children rocked with laughter.
I was so humiliated that I laid my head on the desk and covered it with my arms.
What would my punishment be for this, I wondered?
Mrs. Hunter simply said, "Enes - that's a nice name."
Then she turned to the blackboard and wrote her name.
I worried all day about the punishment I would receive, but nothing happened.
We were given our first primer and we tried to copy the words DOG and CAT. We copied numbers, 1 to 10, and played 'I Spy'.
My fears finally dwindled.
School was actually fun!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Little Sister by Enes Berg Stringam

Mom, third from left, and five of her eight brothers.
Her 'baby sister' Roy, alias Rosie, is far left.
Another selection from my Mom's journals.
This was my Mom's favorite story.


Being the only sister near the middle in a family of eight brothers, I found myself competing with the boys and growing up as a 'Tom Boy'.
I was athletic and could run as fast, jump as high and throw as far as my brothers.
I milked cows, drove and rode horses as well as the boys.
As the fourth in the family, I often considered myself the fourth brother.
In spite of this, I yearned for a sister, sharing my mother's yearning for another daughter.
By the time I was five, I had three new, small brothers but still no sister.
My prayers unanswered, I seemed destined to be alone in a mob of boys.
My little brothers seemed more cooperative and trusting than my older brothers; maybe little brothers could substitute as sisters? I decided to try to make one my little brothers into a little sister. Perhaps if I dressed them up in girls' clothes, they would pass as sisters. I rummaged through Mama's trunk and found an old dress and a bonnet with lace trimming.
Armed with these frillies, I looked about for a likely prospect.
Roy, the fifth brother and three years my junior, seemed the best choice. I approached him where he was playing in the yard.
"Roy, come and see what I have here."
He came willingly after I promised him a cookie.
We went upstairs where I slipped him into the dress, tied the belt and put on the lace bonnet, all the time crooning how nice he looked - so very nice. I gave the dress a tug to cover grubby clothes and ankle-height shoes.
I called my new little sister Rosie, my favorite name at the time.
For a while we played games that I supposed girls would play. We played with dolls and improvised a tea party including the promised cookie.
We were having such a good time, just us girls.
It was wonderful having a beautiful little sister.
Finally, I thought and I and my little sister should go for a walk to see the cats and the farm animals which would be frolicking about outside.
I took Rosie by the hand and for several blissful minutes, I led her around the yard, describing all the interesting features of our farmyard and garden.
Luckily, we did not encounter any brothers with their taunting giggles and snorts.
Suddenly a car came into the yard.
 The spell was broken. Rosie, reverting to Roy, leapt into the air and shot like a rocket toward the house.
As the passengers poured out of the car, they were surprised to see what looked like a human tornado, shedding clothes as it sped to the nearest hideaway.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Music by Enes Berg Stringam

My Mom, age 20. Why couldn't I have looked like that?!

It's the first of November. 
If she were still with us, my Mom would have been taking down the Halloween decorations and hunting out the boxes marked 'Christmas'. (Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, so we move directly from Halloween to Remembrance day to Christmas.)
And she would also be digging out the Christmas albums to put on the stereo.
Mom loved music.
I'm thinking about her today . . .
This is another entry from her journal.

There was much music in our house.
Mama had a beautiful voice, singing us to sleep with lilting Swedish tunes.
Papa was quite proficient on the accordion, playing schottisches, polkas and old-time waltzes for dances at the school house, and at home, especially when we had visitors.
Early on, Papa bought an organ at a sale.
I loved music and tried to play that organ.
Later, Papa purchased a piano to which I became attached as to a loving friend.
Tommy Mair, a musician friend of our teacher, arranged to give music lessons after school in Millicent.
I was thrilled to be enrolled and Tommy became my teacher, maestro and hero.
He could play anything without a sheet of music.
As he rippled through my lessons with a magic touch, I was enthralled, floating on a cloud of notes so sweet and heavenly, I wanted the rhapsody to go on forever.
For eight wonderful lessons, I wafted in ecstasy.
Tommy would play a tune and I would copy him.
Then he would improvise with many delightful trills so that the simple little single notes became a whole orchestra of sound.
As his nimble fingers raced over the keyboard, I was transfixed into a fantasy world beyond my fondest dreams.
In that moment, I yearned to be a maestro like Tommy Mair.
But after eight lessons, I was on my own.
At every opportunity, whether at home or at a community dance, I was at the piano watching the artistic mastery of every pianist.
Fascinated by the variety of piano improvisations.
Then, at home, I would spend every available moment trying to replicate what I had seen.
I was drawn to the piano like a moth to light, picking out tunes in a painful process of matching notes to keys until I had memorized them so I could play them by ear.
The piano became my best friend and companion.
It became an outlet for self-expression.
I learned that if we express ourselves well, others will listen, understand, and believe in us.
They will be buoyed up and motivated by our message and inspiration and we, ourselves will also be inspired with a feeling of accomplishment.
Music has helped me to greatly raise my self worth, to feel good about myself.
For this, I am thankful to my first inspirational music teacher, Tommy Mair.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Outhouse Tipping. Sport of Kings.

Seated: Grandma and Grandpa Berg and 'She Who Holds the Horses'
Surrounding them: The Instigators

Halloween.
Ghosts and goblins.
Witches, black cats and scary pumpkins.
Pirates, vampires and mummies.
An evening of treats, tricks and mischief.
And it has been this way for many, many years.
My Mom often talked of mischief perpetrated by her and her eight (yes, I said eight) brothers.
They were in a rural community, with all of the families around them involved in some sort of agriculture, so the opportunities for tricks were almost as endless as the imaginations that enacted them.
Pigs in the hen house.
Harnesses on the cows.
Wagons hauled to the roofs of the barns.
Tires and assorted junk piled in the roadways.
But the favourite, the real king of the pranks was outhouse tipping.
Though indoor plumbing was quite common in the cities and larger communities in the mid-1930s, on the farms and ranches surrounding Millicent, Alberta, most families still made use of the outdoor privy.
Cold in the winter, hot in the summer, but necessary the whole year through, the outhouse was an accepted and integral part of family life.
And very few of them were fastened down.
All it took was a concerted effort by two or more strong lads and . . . over it would go.
Followed by much laughter and hilarity as the perpetrators fled.
To the next farm.
Where their adventure would start all over.
Mom held the horses, or so she contends.
But I digress . . .
One Halloween, she and her eight brothers were making the rounds.
One farm, in particular was their destination.
The husband and wife who ran it were 'feisty'.
And protective.
And fun to pit wits with.
The Berg kids crept along in the darkness, trying desperately to be silent.
Finally, they left my Mom holding the horse's reins and crept closer.
All was quiet.
Light was pouring from the farm house.
The couple was likely eating dinner.
The boys picked their target out of the gloom.
It stood in lonely glory (can one use the word 'glory' in describing an outhouse?) to one side of the yard.
Closer.
Finally, they reached the little structure.
Ahh. Now just a little push to set things going . . .
Now, unbeknownst (good word) to them, the farmer had decided, this year, to outwit his antagonists.
By hiding inside the outhouse.
At the climactic moment, he would burst from the building and give his shotgun a blast into the air.
That would scare those little scamps into next week!
His plan was brilliant.
Genius.
Right up to the point where the boys tipped the outhouse over . . . on its door.
Trapping their would-be assailant inside.
Hampered but unbowed, he stuck his head through one of the holes and shouted, "Ye blimey little rats! I'll get ye!"
Then followed with the planned shotgun blast at the sky.
Admittedly, completed as it was through the hole of an outhouse, the action lost some of its 'punch'.
And the boys, by this time were already over the hill, laughing at their cleverness.
But the farmer's actions did achieve one thing.
Made doubly sure that his farm was on the 'trick' list for a long as the boys lived at home.
Or until he got indoor plumbing.
Whichever came first.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

So Sad

To all of my faithful readers . . .
First, thank you so much for your comments and encouragement.
You are true friends.
Now, the bad news.
I have at least one reader who is less than complimentary with his/her comments. For that reason, I have had to remove the 'Anonymous' permission rating on my blog.
I hope I've changed the settings properly!
Again, thank you to everyone who reads On the Border.
I write for you!

I'll Sleep Through That!

Mark. With his friend.

Our family loves root beer.
Homemade.
And our eldest son can sleep through anything.
These two facts are related.
Maybe I'd better explain . . .
My Husby loves to make root beer.
He's very good at it.
I got my first taste of his homemade brew on our wedding night.
Neither of us drink alcohol, so he had brought several bottles of the magical elixir in his suitcase so we could toast each other.
It was . . . fun.
And thus began a family tradition.
I should explain here that root beer making is an exact science requiring skill and knowledge.
And large containers.
Grant used a garbage pail.
A new one, just so you don't get the wrong idea.
Moving on . . .
He would add the precise amount of water, then the elixir, then the sugar.
And finally, the yeast, the vitally important 'makes everything else work' ingredient.
Then the stirring.
And finally, the fun part, the bottling.
One important aspect of root beer making is the two to three weeks of 'construction' or 'fermenting' time.
It must sit quietly in a warm spot during that all-important period.
That's where our son, Mark, comes into the picture.
Mark was our first-born. He was little.
We kept his room warm.
Perfect for a couple of cases of root beer bottles waiting to 'become'.
So to speak.
Now, the biggest problem with home-brew is that, as the brew ages, the pressure inside the bottle builds. And after a few uses, some of said bottles may become weak.
And you can't tell, by looking, which are so affected.
You can probably guess what happens then.
Pop! Fizz!
Mess.
It was very early morning. Grant and I were still soundly asleep.
The glorious rosy sun was just rising on another perfect prairie morning.
It's my story, I can remember is how I want.
Suddenly, there was a dull 'popping' sound.
Then another.
We were instantly awake. And knew, just as instantly, and with the instinct of new parents, what those sounds meant.
Our root beer was ready.
And we had a couple of weak bottles.
And, more importantly, they were posing a very real threat to our baby, sleeping mere inches away in his crib.
Imagining projectiles of glass flying everywhere, we scrambled from our bed, threw open the baby's room door and charged inside.
Before you get too excited, I should explain that things weren't as bad as we had imagined.
Whew.
The bottles had obviously become weak at the base of the neck.
They looked as though they had been neatly beheaded.
The neck and lid were sitting right beside each bottle.
Our sleeping baby was fine.
Visions of flying glass faded from our minds and we immediately turned to the next problem.
Clean up.
Jabbering excitedly, we gingerly disposed of the broken pieces and hauled the remaining cases from the room.
Then proceeded with the scrubbing and vacuuming.
Finally satisfied with our efforts, we prepared to leave the room.
It was then I realized that Mark hadn't made a sound throughout the entire . . . loud . . . process.
I peeped into the crib.
He was still rosily, happily, soundly asleep.
Snoring slightly in that cute 'baby' way.
Huh.
My Husby and I learned several things that day:
  1. Don't re-use your root beer bottles.
  2. Don't ferment your root beer
  3. In the baby's room
  4. Unless he's a great sleeper
Cheers!

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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